Many in city saw Brame's descent

Investigation: Workers were frustrated by inaction

November 26, 2003 

Some day, the list of people who saw David Brame falling apart will stop growing. But not yet.

Records released this week of a six-month state investigation into the Brame scandal shed brighter light on the Tacoma police chief's deterioration, erratic behavior and sexual obsessions.

The records, spread over more than 6,000 pages, reveal new information about employees in the city and the Tacoma Police Department sounding alarms before Brame fatally shot his wife, Crystal, and himself April 26.

They show other examples of possible misconduct by employees, which could lead to discipline following a state-led administrative inquiry.

Few revelations emerge from the records, but the multiple interviews, transcripts and witness accounts illustrate the "cultural deficiencies" cited by state Attorney General Christine Gregoire when the results of a criminal investigation were announced last week.

Here are some of the highlights that appear in the records:

•To anyone who would listen at work, Brame spoke constantly of his contentious divorce, to the point where several colleagues began to avoid him, or urge him to focus on work.

He called his administrative assistant, Jeannette Blackwell, at all hours to discuss details of the divorce - while she was on vacation at Disneyland, while she drove an injured child to the hospital, early in the morning, late at night.

Brame's inattention forced the department's assistant chiefs to "baby-sit" him, Blackwell said.

"All three assistant chiefs were carrying his workload," she said. "The baby-sitting came more from myself and (assistant chief Richard) McCrea."

•Key electronic records, including e-mails from April 26, were lost without the possibility of recovery due to computer system failures and possible decisions by employees to take no action to prevent it.

One employee, Ron Jones, said he was told he could not make changes to city computer systems, even to preserve records, without permission from the city's legal department.

Jones said he was advised that if backup records expired in the normal course of business, that was standard procedure, and should not be changed.

•Before the shootings, then-City Manager Ray Corpuz received warnings about Brame's behavior from then-assistant chief Catherine Woodard and Lt. Bob Sheehan, a veteran and former union colleague of Brame's.

Sheehan picked up Brame from Sea-Tac Airport on April 25, the day before the shootings. In the car, Brame spoke again of his divorce, annoying Sheehan, who was already familiar with the details.

When they reached Fife, Brame told Sheehan this was where his wife's attorney worked. Passing near the attorney's office, Brame said he thought he saw his wife's car, and asked Sheehan to drive by.

At first Sheehan refused, telling Brame, "You're not going anywhere near that place." Then he relented, agreeing to drive a block from the attorney's office.

Before Sheehan dropped Brame off in Tacoma, he overheard the chief speaking with Corpuz and mentioning media coverage of his divorce. When Brame left, Sheehan called Corpuz himself.

"This babying of (Brame) needs to stop," Sheehan recalled saying. He then said he planned to become more forceful with Brame, to get him to focus on his job.

According to Sheehan, Corpuz replied, "That's fine. Someone needs to do that."

Sheehan also mentioned Woodard, who had become involved in Brame's divorce. He said he told Corpuz, "She needs to get out of his personal life."

•Investigators examined 25 allegations of misconduct against Woodard and former assistant chief William Meeks, ultimately deciding that no criminal charges were warranted.

They ranged from Woodard's visit with Brame to the Gig Harbor home of Crystal Brame's parents to Meeks' mishandling of evidence gathered in a crime scene.

•Beyond his efforts to lure a female patrol officer into group sex, Brame made sexual advances or explicit sexual comments to at least three female city employees, who rebuffed him.

To administrative assistant Blackwell, Brame spoke incessantly of sexual matters.

Another city employee, Gwen Kopetzky, an assistant to Corpuz, began avoiding Brame to limit his contacts with her.

"He made me feel extremely uncomfortable, and his comments became increasingly inappropriate," Kopetzky said.

Kopetzky did not tell Corpuz about Brame's behavior, but shared her concerns with two other employees.

•Five city and Police Department employees knew about Brame's efforts to lure a female patrol officer into group sex, but did not report it to Corpuz or other leaders.

The state's records identify those employees as McCrea, Woodard, Blackwell, detective Barry McColeman and former assistant city attorney Shelley Kerslake.

•Knowledge of a 1988 rape allegation against Brame was widespread in the department. When asked about it, he gave accounts that varied, depending on whom he spoke to.

Always, he said the incident involved consensual sex. Sometimes he said the victim was a woman who was angered because Brame did not call her for another date. On another occasion, he said the woman initiated sex and undressed him.

•On the Friday before the shootings, leaders of the city's Human Resources Department expressed frustration to subordinates and co-workers about their failure to convince city attorneys to place Brame on administrative leave.

In the weeks following the shootings, city attorneys denied that Human Resources director Phil Knudsen and deputy director Mary Brown had raised the idea of administrative leave, which would have meant taking Brame's gun and badge.

Investigators spoke to a number of Human Resources employees who recalled Knudsen and Brown expressing anger about the meeting. Brown recalled her feelings in an interview.

"I was ranting and raving ... that we never touch this guy," she said, referring to Brame. "Why in the name of heaven do they keep making excuses for this guy? You know, he's nothing but a pile of slime."

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486
sean.robinson@mail.tribnet.com

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